Women Veterans Leader Guide: History, Skills, and Resources for Leadership
The influx of women into the military in recent decades created culture shifts in all of the branches of the U.S. armed forces, including increased acceptance of women holding combat roles and officer duties. Though opportunities for progress remain for women, the armed forces are responding by updating health service offerings as well as assault and harassment policies.
Along with challenges in the military, women veterans face obstacles when seeking leadership roles in the business world. Women who work in male-dominated industries (including military jobs) often must work harder to receive the same recognition, positions, and resources as men, according to the Psychology Today article, “Hidden Gems: Women Veterans in Leadership.” Like Marines, women veterans of all branches of the U.S. military have learned to improvise, adapt, and overcome.
Despite the challenges, women veterans are excelling in civilian leadership roles and the number of businesses owned by women veterans is increasing. Women who served in the military can bring desirable qualities to business leadership such as courage, commitment, collaboration, empathy, and resiliency.
Women Veterans Statistics: A Growing Number
The number of servicewomen in the U.S. is growing rapidly. Women compose about 17.1% of enlisted active duty personnel and officers across all branches of the military, according to March 2020 personnel figures from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), up from 16.7% in 2019 and 16.3% in 2018. The lower number of female marines compared to other branches is considered a result of more rigorous physical demands and resistance to the full integration of women. The percentage of female military personnel is expected to increase, as women now account for 26.2% of military academy cadets and midshipmen.
The following is the current breakdown of women in the military by service branch:
- Army: 15.4%
- Navy: 20.1%
- Marines: 9.1%
- Air Force: 21%
Growth of Women Officers and Veterans
As the number of women in the military increased, so has the number of women officers. Women now account for 18.5% of total officers, up from 18.1% in 2019 and 17.7% in 2018, according to the DOD.
The number of women veterans also increased. Women now comprise about 10% of the total veteran population. This statistic on women veterans is projected to grow to about 15% by 2035, according to veteran population data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Statistics also show that women veterans are typically younger and more likely to represent a minority demographic. They also are more likely to have attended college or earned bachelor’s and advanced degrees.
Post-Service Employment of Women Veterans
Employed women veterans are more likely to hold management positions than employed male veterans, according to the VA. They also typically will work in business, science, and arts occupations. Many female veterans who advance into work in government positions are beginning to make significant impacts in politics.
However, women veterans had an average unemployment rate of 3.7% in 2019, higher than the 3.1% rate for all veterans, according to veteran employment statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Some women veterans who also are military spouses may face barriers to employment, including frequent relocation and increased family duties during a spouse’s deployment, according to the veterans’ leadership support organization The Mission Continues.
The Importance of Women Veteran Leaders
Members of the military gain strong leadership skills that can translate effectively into the business world. These skills have helped women veterans rise in the ranks to become change-makers in major enterprises. Women veterans have strengths and capabilities that drive their success, such as dedication, problem-solving, and interpersonal communication. Here are a few female veterans who have made their mark in corporate environments:
- Amy Gravitt, executive vice president, HBO Programming
- Nana Adae, managing director and head of investments, JP Morgan Private Bank
- Jen Easterly, managing director of technology, Morgan Stanley
- Nanette DeRenzi, chief operations officer, Jefferson Solutions
- Dawn Halfaker, founder and CEO, Halfaker and Associates
- Phyllis Newhouse, founder and CEO, Xtreme Solutions
Women Veteran Entrepreneurs
Women veterans are distinguishing themselves as entrepreneurs. While women account for 10% of veterans, 15% own businesses.
The number of women veteran-owned businesses (WVOBs) grew by nearly 300% between 2007 and 2012, according to the latest available U.S. Census Bureau figures analyzed by the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) in its Veteran Women & Business report. The number of companies owned by women who were not veterans rose by 23% during the same period.
WVOBs on average earned seven cents for every dollar earned by male veteran-owned businesses, according to the NWBC report, indicating a lack of available resources and support. Women veterans typically start businesses with less capital and are less likely to ask for business loans than their male counterparts, according to the NWBC. The lack of longevity of WVOBs also impacts revenue; more than 40% of WVOBs analyzed in the NWBC report were less than five years old, and nearly a third of all the companies typically go out of business within two years.
Famous Female Veterans and Their Accomplishments
Advocates for women veterans are spotlighting the growing contributions of women in the military and the business world by highlighting the stories of famous female veterans. Female service members are often referenced as “invisible veterans” because their accomplishments were largely unrecognized by the public, media, and politicians until the 1970s, according to the VA.
History of Women in the Military
Women officially served in the U.S. military since 1901, though they played roles on the battlefield for decades prior, largely as nurses. In the following years, women expanded their roles as engineers, pilots, intelligence officers, and other positions. Women weren’t recognized as official veterans until well after World War II when the 1948 Women’s Armed Services Integration Act granted females the right to serve as permanent members of the military. Some of the major milestones included:
- Attending military academies and serving on noncombat ships (1970s)
- Flying helicopters in combat and serving as military police and command officers (1980s)
- Flying planes in combat missions and serving on combat ships (1990s)
- Deploying on a submarine (2011)
- Serving as direct ground combat soldiers (2013)
- Serving in all military occupations and positions without exception (2016)
Famous Women Veterans
Several famous female veterans have overcome numerous challenges and roadblocks on the journey to full military participation, leaving significant legacies. Strong leadership competencies gained through military service helped them excel. The following women—and many like them—helped shape and influence women veterans’ leadership:
- Harriet Tubman: Best known for her role in helping slaves escape to freedom in the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman also played an important role as a Union spy during the Civil War. She created an espionage ring, gathering information from scouts and providing essential intelligence for military maneuvers. Tubman is recognized as the first woman to lead a U.S. military expedition, guiding three armed gunboats as they freed about 750 slaves from plantations during the war.
- Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody: After serving in military positions for three decades, Ann E. Dunwoody became the first woman to rise to the four-star officer rank in 2008. Upon joining the Army in 1974, she served as a supply platoon leader and rose in the ranks to the commander of the Army Materiel Command, which employed 69,000 people worldwide. Gen. Dunwoody was recognized for her contributions to overhauling the Army’s global logistics functions to improve efficiency.
- Col. Eileen Collins: After holding several teaching positions with the Air Force, Eileen Collins became the first woman to command a NASA space shuttle mission in 1999. Col. Collins served as a flight instructor from 1979 to 1982, an aircraft commander and instructor pilot from 1983 to 1985, and an Air Force Academy instructor and assistant professor from 1986 to 1989. She became an astronaut in 1991 and the first woman space shuttle pilot in 1995.
Translating Military Skills to Roles in Civilian Leadership
Numerous qualities make female veterans ideal for leadership positions in the business world. Along with dedication to duty, these women bring strong communication and decision-making skills stemming from the strict and fast-paced demands of the military environment. Translating these military skills into careers in the business world can help women veterans excel in leadership positions. Some of these capabilities include:
- Competence: Women in the military learn to complete job duties quickly and with high levels of quality, resourcefulness, and persistence. Women develop strong levels of confidence and courage to take on leadership roles in male-dominated industries (including the military) where they have to perform better to receive equal recognition, according to Psychology Today.
- Resilience: Women veterans are trained to recover quickly from setbacks and move on to the next challenge. Resilience helps in fast-paced occupations or workplace settings undergoing major change. As the minority gender in the military, women develop a strong sense of intensity and grit to meet rigorous fitness requirements and break down barriers in taking on combat and leadership positions.
- Organization: Women veterans typically have higher educations and stronger managerial skills than non-veteran women in the workforce, according to the Forbes article “Top 5 Tips On How Women Veterans Can Persevere From The Military To The Workforce.” Military personnel must have the skills to execute complex functions, write and present reports, focus on important tasks and multitask -all valued competencies in the civilian workforce.
- Mental agility: Women veterans can gain a high level of cognitive and emotional intelligence through military experience. They typically develop strong critical-thinking skills that translate into solving business problems. Women in the workforce typically have stronger emotional intelligence skills — including self-motivation, work ethic, and problem-solving — than men, according to this Inc. article on women in leadership. These traits give women veterans an even greater advantage when pursuing business roles.
- Teamwork: Members of the military undergo rigorous team-building training. They also gain a strong sense of service to others. In the workforce, veterans can translate these military skills to their new workplace by building strong interpersonal relationships. Women in the workforce usually have strong collaboration and communication skills, according to Inc.
Women who rise to officer positions also undergo leadership training that builds a background in supervising teams, training others in job tasks, and inspiring workers to complete high-quality work. Women officers also may have greater empathy for employees due to their experiences in climbing the ranks in roles typically occupied by male officers, which can help them form strong connections and inspire confidence and commitment.
How Business Grants for Women Veterans Work
Business grants can help women who are looking to build their entrepreneurial enterprise. Business grants for women veterans come from government programs or private organizations.
The Grants.gov website provides a sizable database of government grants available to veterans and other startup applicants. In addition, the Small Business Administration (SBA) operates the Veterans Business Outreach Centers and Small Business Development Centers that help entrepreneurs connect with grant resources. Some of the SBA’s entrepreneurship programs are specific to women veterans. Other grant administration organizations include:
- The StreetShares Foundation, Female Founders Veteran Small Business Award Grant Program
- VA Vets First Verification Program
- Warrior Rising Grants Program
- U.S. Economic Development Administration (regional branches)
- FedEx Small Business Grant Contest
- National Association for the Self-Employed
Grant Application Procedures
Applicants must meet specific requirements for different grants. For government grants, applicants must undergo a one- to three-week registration process and, then, complete a lengthy application, which includes a grant proposal. In writing a grant proposal, applicants must outline business ideas and present supporting evidence. Nongovernment grant organizations also typically require the submission of a business plan. Women veterans also can apply for small business loans from organizations such as OnDeck, BlueVine, SmartBiz, and the Small Business Administration.
Entrepreneurship Best Practices
Business startup best practices for veterans, according to U.S. Veterans Magazine, include:
- Request assistance from support groups and mentors.
- Write a strong business plan.
- Apply for grants or loans.
- Identify the location and size of the business.
- Register the business with state officials, including incorporation, tax, and permits/licenses.
- Register the business name.
- Get an employer identification number from the IRS.
- Establish operations and hire employees.
Women Veterans Organizations That Can Help with the Transition
Some support groups help women transition from military to civilian life, addressing challenges that include social integration, physical injuries, mental health issues, education, and employment. Among the resources available is assistance for women veterans pursuing new careers and leadership roles. These groups can help women gain confidence in transitioning skills from the military to business environments. Women veterans organizations also can provide access to networking opportunities with other female veterans and individuals with similar backgrounds. Some of the service organizations available to transitioning veterans, job seekers, and future leaders include:
- Women Veterans Alliance—Social networking and assistance with entrepreneurship and career training
- Veteran Women's Enterprise Center—Assistance for women veteran-owned businesses, including access to financial resources
- Service Women’s Action Network—Support, community resources, and advocacy for female service members and veterans
- The Mission Continues—Connects veterans with communities and resources, including through a Women Veterans Leadership Program
- Disabled American Veterans (DAV)—Transportation, outreach, and employment assistance for veterans
- American Corporate Partners—Veteran transition assistance including a women’s mentoring program with female entrepreneurs and business leaders
Federal programs outlined in this women veterans report from the DAV include:
- DOD Transition Assistance Program—Counseling and transition planning for veterans
- VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program—Job readiness assessment, rehabilitation, and training for veterans with service-connected disabilities
- VA Readjustment Counseling Service—Free readjustment counseling at VA Vet Centers
- U.S. Department of Labor CareerOneStop/American Job Centers—Website and service centers providing veteran-specific programs to assist with job placement, training, and financial assistance
- SBA Boots to Business—Entrepreneurial training and education program for veterans
Available Scholarships for Women Veterans
By earning an advanced degree from an accredited university, women veterans a can gain a competitive advantage when pursuing a business leadership role. For instance, a master’s program in leadership includes courses that help individuals develop high ethical standards, emotional intelligence, and skills in strategic communication, employee development, and change management.
Many scholarship opportunities enable women veterans to gain access to higher education programs beyond the benefits of the GI Bill®. Scholarships may come from nonprofit organizations, local governments, or commercial enterprises. Some of the entities that offer scholarships for veterans include:
- Army Women’s Foundation Scholarship Program
- Allied Van Lines 2020 Military Scholarship
- AMVETS Scholarships
- Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association Scholarship
- Education Connection Scholarship
- Horatio Alger Military Veterans Scholarship
- NBCC Foundation Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society Education Programs
- Paralyzed Veterans of America Scholarship
- Pat Tillman Foundation Scholars Program
- AFCEA War Veterans Scholarships
Applying for Women Veterans Scholarships
Application procedures for scholarships vary depending on the goals of the awarding organizations, which often seek candidates with particular qualifications. Applicants typically must be accepted or enrolled in a degree program, and verify themselves as an active-duty military member, veteran, or military family member. Some common requirements for scholarship seekers include:
- Completed entry form
- Submitted short essay
- Applied by a specific deadline
Some programs have special requirements, such as holding an association membership, serving in the military during specific periods, or pursuing a specific career field such as technology. Scholarship awards may also take into consideration financial need and academic merit.
Take Advantage of Leadership Opportunities for Women Veterans
Leadership opportunities for women veterans are expanding, and candidates for these roles are honing their skills and expertise to climb the corporate ladder or launch a small business. Pursuing a degree in leadership can help veterans sharpen communication, decision-making, and organizational capabilities to excel in entrepreneurship or management positions.
Norwich University has produced strong leaders throughout its 200-year history. Norwich’s online leadership master’s degree program offers several concentration choices: Human Resources Leadership, Leading Change Management Consulting, Organizational Leadership, and Public Sector/Government/Military Leadership.
An online degree program can provide flexibility for nontraditional students, students with children at home, or students seeking to work at their own pace. Veterans interested in how an advanced college degree can help them pursue their professional goals should learn more about Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Leadership program.
With Historic Number of Women in Uniform, the Vet Community Is About to Change, Military.com
Hidden Gems: Women Veterans in Leadership, Psychology Today
It’s Time to Turn Up the Volume on Women Veteran-Owned Businesses, Military.com
DoD Personnel, Workforce Reports & Publications, U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Manpower Data Center
Women in the Military: Where They Stand 2019, Service Women’s Action Network
Veteran Population, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics
Women Becoming Marines: ‘I’ Will No Longer Be in Your Vocabulary, The New York Times
Employment Situation of Veterans—2019, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Women Veterans Leadership Program, The Mission Continues
Women Veterans Leadership Summit 2017, The Mission Continues
Phyllis Newhouse Inducted Into the Enterprising Women Hall of Fame, Enterprising Women
This Iraq Veteran Lost Her Arm—but Found New Purpose as an Entrepreneur, Inc.
Veteran Women & Business: A Data Resource, National Women’s Business Council
Women Veterans: The Challenges They Face & a Way Forward, National Association of Women in Real Estate Businesses
Women in the Army, History, U.S. Army
TIMELINE: A History of Women in the US Military, Task & Purpose
Seven Famous Women Veterans, Military.com
Best Small-Business Loans for Veterans 2020, NerdWallet
Small-Business Grants and Resources for Veterans, NerdWallet
Search Grants, Grants.gov
Grants Programs and Eligibility, U.S. Small Business Administration
Starting a Business? Steps Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know, U.S. Veterans Magazine
Women Veterans: The Journey Ahead, Disabled American Veterans
Woman Vet, Women Veterans Alliance
Who We Are, Veteran Women's Enterprise Center
What We Do, Service Women’s Action Network
ACP Women’s Veteran Mentoring Program, American Corporate Partners
Resources for Female Military Veterans, Operation We Are Here
List of Military Scholarships for Service Members, Spouses and Dependents, U.S. Veterans Magazine
GI Bill®️ is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.